CLEMSON — Chad Morris had no delusions about the assortment of Clemson tight ends at his disposal.
Dwayne Allen wasn’t walking through that door. Brandon Ford wasn’t walking through that door.
Morris, in his third year as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator, needs a serviceable tight end to fulfill the usual duties (catch passes, block for runners) and get lined up quickly in the up-tempo offense.
Darrell Smith, a converted fullback, was listed as the season-opener starter. He’s since been overtaken by Stanton Seckinger, the Porter-Gaud product who caught the game-winning touchdown pass to beat Georgia and has played steady in September of his sophomore season.
It’s the other two tight ends Morris would like to see step up, and while they’re coming off of knee injuries, freshmen Jordan Leggett and sophomore Sam Cooper provide the highest upside of the group.
“To be honest with you, we kind of expected a little more out of Jordan Leggett, especially coming out of spring,” Morris said. “He got injured in fall camp and that set him back from a mental standpoint as much as it did physically.
“(Tight ends) coach (Danny) Pearman and I have been on him religiously about his technique and his mindset,” Morris said. “The success he had will only help him. He’s got phenomenal talent, but he’s just got to keep coming on.”
Cooper, back after tearing his ACL in the spring game, was disappointed by a couple of drops Saturday against Wake Forest, 10 days after catching the only touchdown Clemson scored in the first half of its 26-14 triumph at N.C. State.
Seckinger is Clemson’s leading receiver from the group, with six catches for 70 yards. All the tight ends combined have 16 grabs for 150 yards, and three touchdowns.
“I’ve been pleased with the position. It hasn’t been the highlight like we wanted it to be, but that’s OK,” Morris said. “There’s other guys picking up right now.”
If Dabo Swinney didn’t think the Carrier Dome’s lack of air conditioning wouldn’t affect the warm-weather Tigers, he probably wouldn’t have cranked the heat in Clemson’s indoor practice complex Tuesday. That closed-doors practice was “good and sweaty,” followed by Wednesday’s jam session in which the offense operated amidst the blarings of Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi.
“We’re from Clemson, so it’s not like we don’t experience heat,” Swinney said. “We’re not from Canada or something like that. Lot of muggy days, lot of humidity. These guys have been battle-tested, and we’ll play for 60 minutes or however long it takes to finish the game, that’s for sure.”
Swinney recalled a day in fall camp when Tina Turner was serenading the Tigers, and players were asked to name the singer. Their guesses of Journey and Kiss had the head coach guffawing.
“Of course, if they quiz me on some of (their music), then I wouldn’t have a clue, either,” Swinney said. “But they get a dose of my iPod every now and then.”
Starting tailback Roderick McDowell only ran Tuesday but practiced in full pads Wednesday.
McDowell is the team’s leading rusher with 253 yards but has suffered from concussion and ankle issues this young season. The Tigers have 177 rushing attempts, and just three have gone for at least 20 yards.
Three Tigers won’t make the trip to Syracuse: offensive lineman Patrick DeStefano (neck), linebacker B.J. Goodson (concussion) and defensive end Kevin Dodd (toe.) Dodd has appeared in all four games this season, credited with seven tackles.
Kalon Davis is set to start at left guard Saturday, while David Beasley continues to heal from a sprained ankle.
Davis also has been getting practice reps at right tackle, where Shaq Anthony and Gifford Timothy are waging a battle for the starting job.
“We’re kind of letting them compete,” Swinney said, adding Anthony had “a good day” Wednesday and Timothy is cleared to return from his Sept. 19 concussion.
It’s unlikely both starting safeties Robert Smith and Travis Blanks would be on the sideline at the same time while the game’s outcome is still in doubt in lieu of defensive backups.
But of the reserves looking to take some of the brunt off Smith and Blanks, freshman Jayron Kearse has continued to earn the coaches’ trust.
“Jayron, you can’t help but notice him when he’s on the field,” Swinney said. “Athletically, he kind of sticks out. I’m excited about his development the rest of this year.”